How to Bikepack on a Plant-Based Diet

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It struck me recently that I’ve bikepacked or bike toured for over a year of my life. Starting in 2014, I’ve pedaled across states, countries, and mountain ranges, over a thousand hours of exertion and 10,000 miles.

Along the way, I’ve burnt a few calories.

I fueled all 10,000 of those miles following a plant-based diet. And since I couldn’t find a comprehensive blog post talking about this, I decided to write this post!

My goal is to provide concrete, actionable information about trying a plant-based (or plant-leaning) diet for your next bike trip. I cover the following (click to skip ahead):

  1. My experience with plant-based bike travel
  2. Bikepacking vs. bike touring
  3. Trips I’ve done
  4. My mindset for plant-based travel
  5. General bike travel tips
  6. Food I carry while bikepacking
  7. What to eat in rural towns
  8. Food I carry while bike touring
  9. Tips to hit the road
  10. Photo gallery

First off, I want to say this: food is personal. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist and I’m DEFINITELY not here to tell you how to eat. But if you’re interested in leaning more plant-based on bike trips, you’re in the right place. 

Let’s jump into it.

Mason whipping up an amazing tempeh/cheese/avocado wrap during a thunderstorm break on the Colorado Trail.

My Experience with Plant-Based Bike Travel:

After almost a decade of pedaling on plant power, here is what I’ve discovered:

  1. Bikepacking on a plant-based diet is totally doable: I’ve found that plenty of calories, balanced nutrients, and a high energy level were the norm.
  2. There’s never been a better time to live and travel as a plant-based person. From rural restaurants to big city dining, I’ve found and enjoyed plant-based food options.
  3. In foreign countries, the grocery store and restaurant treasure hunt is an enjoyable part of the travel experience.
  4. If I’m kind and clear with my requests, people return the kindness and help get me what I need.
  5. Staying true to my values during a trip is empowering. I enjoy the opportunity to be an ambassador for plant-based eating.

What’s the Difference Between Bike Touring and Bikepacking?

For me, bike touring means paved roads and hence more amenities like grocery stores most days, along with restaurant and hotel options. Our trips biking across the U.S.. or Europe on small highways, back roads or car-free paths are a perfect example of touring.

Bikepacking is off-road on gravel roads or dirt trails. It’s typically more remote traveling with fewer resupply options and less carrying capacity on the bike, e.g. Bikepacking the Colorado Trail or Oregon Big Country. It might be multiple days without any resupply options.

I think both are fantastic ways to travel and I will continue to do both. That said, I’m skerrred of cars and Tiktokking Teens behind the wheel, so I avoid paved roads whenever possible.

Freeze-dried pad thai during a bikepacking trip in the Chilcotins in Canada.

Quick Credibility Builder

Here’s a rundown of some of the bigger bike touring and bikepacking trips I’ve done on a plant-based diet. I bring these up to illustrate that big, physically-demanding trips are entirely possible powered entirely on plants.

  1. Toured 4,000 self-supported miles across the U.S. from Idaho to Portland, Maine with my wife Chelsea.
  2. Pedaled 2,500 self-supported miles through 13 countries in Europe with Chelsea, plus another 2 months through Spain and Portugal.
  3. Bikepacked across Oregon on the Oregon Timber Trail, the Oregon Outback, Oregon Big Country and Three Sisters, Three Rivers, plus the Odyssey of the VOG. I’ve also pedaled (and pushed) my bike through the remote Chilcotin Wilderness and the epic Colorado Trail.
  4. Raced 100 miles on a mountain bike a couple times (2017, 2019), a 9+ hour event. (Plant-based racers like Dylan Johnson absolutely crush.)
  5. Many hundreds of hours of mountain bike day rides.

You’ll note that my trips are limited to North America and Europe (for now!). However, plant-based friends have pedaled E. Europe and S. America, Nepal, and other regions around the world and done juuuust fine.

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Chowing down while touring through Montana in 2014. OMG, I’m carrying so much stuff!

The Mindset

My shift to plant-based in 2013 simply required commitment and just owning it. Most people understood and supported me. Even if people didn’t understand why I was making the choice, if I was clear and kind with my requests, they helped me get what I wanted. 

I’ve discovered that eating plant-based is like any other boundary that we set to build our ideal life. If we have a preference and we’re crystal clear about it, then if somebody responds poorly, that’s great feedback to moooove along. 

EVERYone these days knows somebody with a standard American  diet. (I recall a server in a small-town diner in Nebraska who had a cousin who ate plant-based.) A keto brother, a gluten-free roommate, a vegetarian aunt…people will understand.

On the health side, I’ve always prioritized my personal health, but my blood work at 40 years old is better than it was in my 20s! I’m able to do all the cycling I did before (actually, now I do a lot more…). In fact, many badass professional athletes are plant-based, as documented in the movie The Game Changers.

Also, plant-based diets help people optimize body composition, oftentimes dramatically dropping fat. Bike travel is hard enough, so shaving a few pounds never hurts. It’s certainly cheaper to eat plants than it is to buy carbon wheels.

Given the positive results and empowering feeling that my choices are better for the planet, animals, and me, I can’t endorse a plant-based lifestyle enough.

Enough background. Let’s talk about what I eat on bike tours.

Mason and I digging into pizza in Frisco during the Colorado Trail.

Food for Bikepacking vs. Bike Touring

In my experience, bikepacking tends to involve steeper, more challenging terrain. Keeping bike (and human) weight to a minimum matters more when I’m lifting my bike over 200 downed trees. 

Loaded up with food and gear while road touring, I just downshift and go slower. On a trail, I curse downed trees and wish I’d done more pullups for trip prep.

Space is also more at a premium on a bikepacking setup. Without spacious panniers, options for storing food are limited. On a road bike tour, I’ve carried crazy amounts of grub: half a watermelon, cans of beans and jars of olives… Whatever! An extra 10 pounds of food barely slows me down. Spin up those hills!

But can I lift that bike over a tree or power through a steep move on a trail? Hellll no.

As such, I make different decisions.

General Tips for Bike Travel

Whether I’m bikepacking remote mountains or bike touring through places like Europe, some things I do hold true:

  • I usually carry a small stove (a Jetboil), but I also like to cold-soak my overnight oats so it’s ready first thing. I do the same with some freeze-dried meals so they’re ready when I’m hungry vs. woefully staring at the cold package and considering attacking my companions to commandeer their food.
  • For really remote trips (e.g. the Oregon Big Country), I mail food ahead! It’s easy: I simply find a post office in the area I’m passing through and send a package to myself marked general delivery. For $10-15 bucks in shipping, I can have exactly what I want. One caveat: check the hours for the post offices, because sometimes they are limited in small towns.
  • Gas stations/convenience stores exist in and contain tons of plant-based options. (Maybe not the most healthy, but whatever. Fritos, mmm.) Here’s a list of plant-based foods available in convenience stores—so many! Yup, Oreos make that list. And Nutter Butters, for which I’ll trade a spare arm during a hungry moment.
  • Bike travel makes me HUNGRY and sometimes it’s tough to carry enough calories to make up for full days of biking. To combat that, I backfill the calorie deficit by eating all the heavy, calorie-dense, yummy stuff while I’m at a restaurant or outside a grocery store, bakery, convenience store…anywhere. I also load up on nutrients via seaweed salads, salad bar items, oranges. And watermelons, obv.
  • I almost always order two portions at a restaurant, eat one there and one to go. For road tours, I’ll bring a watertight container that can take leftovers to get a few hours later.
  • When I’m grocery shopping, I divide my haul into two portions: The stuff to load onto my bike and the stuff I wolf down to refuel on the spot.

Bikepacking on a Plant-Based Diet: Food for the Trail

Below is a list of my go-to bikepacking food. I aim for as little processed food as possible, though that falls apart if I’m starving and find Sour Patch Kids in a gas station. 

Regarding freeze-dried meals, some people make their own, but I’ve never wanted to spend the time. If you watch for year-end sales, you can get meals quite cheap. Plus, hey, you’re sleeping on the ground, so if finances allow, treat yourself!

In general, focus on calorie-dense foods. You’re not trying to lose weight on tour, you’re trying to fuel your engine. Stuff as many calories in your face as possible. (e.g. burritos.)

A giant meal in Leadville during the Colorado Trail.


  • Oatmeal. For shorter trips, I premix a bag with nuts, dried fruit, ground chia, and other additions. For longer trips, I simply buy oatmeal packets along the way and mix with calorie-dense additions like trail mix or peanut butter.


  • Tortillas – PBJ trail burritos or make a freeze-dried meal into a wrap.
  • Sigdal crackers – a nice break from tortillas. 
  • A (plastic) jar of peanut butter and jam that I pre-mix for trail burritos or for adding to oatmeal. PBJs are clean-burning FUEL.
  • Energy bars: Picky Bars are my favorite. Pro Bars are a calorie-dense option as well, with PB Chocolate my fav.
  • Trail mix to eat/add to oatmeal and trail burritos—available in every grocery or convenience store.
  • Pickles (carried sans juice in a plastic bag). Zero calories, heavy, and yet a divine gift from the gods at the top of a mountain pass when I’m craving salt.
  • Olives (transferred to a plastic baggie). All part of my attempt to not only eat sweet treats. Great for adding to freeze-dried meals or eaten alone like a crazed animal.
  • Dried fruit (pineapple, mango, dates, raisins) or gobbling fresh fruit if I’m restocking at a store. Raisins with salt provide the same boost as Sports Jelly Beans and are au natural. 
  • Lupini beans – salty, flavorful, with some moisture. A favorite.
  • Bada Bean Bada Boom – crunchy and delicious beans.
  • Primal Jerky.
  • Fig newtons. Mmmm, figgies. Just typing that makes me want to go buy some. 
  • Some kind of salt/electrolyte tablet and powder. LMNT is like an IV drip to your piehole. It can overcome any electrolyte deficit.
  • Coconut water is a delicious treat.


  • Freeze-dried meals. There are a ton of options. Backpacker’s Pantry pad thai is an affordable, excellent option, along with Kathmandu curry and other plant-based options. One for dinner and another that I’d make in the morning and eat by noon each day…or 10 am, heh. If you’re traveling through cities, most outdoor stores will have these.
  • Dried soy curls pre-mixed with a custom fajita mix for delicious tacos. Pro tip: bring hot sauce, always.
  • Pro tip: Use the tortillas as a wrap for freeze-dried meals. Extra calories!
  • Restaurants! Nothing like a 1,500 calorie mega-burrito from a Mexican restaurant or a Subway sandwich to offset hours of biking. A fav move is to grab a burrito to go and keep pedaling, then eat it down the road.
Loading up a giant burrito during the Oregon Outback. I skipped the beer.

A few tips for bikepacking: 

I usually carry a small stove (a Jetboil), I also like to cold-soak my overnight oats so it’s ready first thing. I do the same with some freeze-dried meals so they’re ready when I’m hungry vs. woefully staring at the cold package and considering attacking my companions to commandeer their food.

For really remote trips (e.g. the Oregon Big Country), mail food ahead! Simply find a post office in an area you’re passing through and send a package to yourself marked general delivery with your name on it. For $10-15 bucks in shipping, you can have exactly what you want. One caveat: check the hours for the post offices, because sometimes they are limited in small towns.

Gas stations/convenience stores exist in and contain tons of plant-based options. (Maybe not the most healthy, but whatever. Fritos, mmm.) Traipsing About reader, badass cyclist and fitness coach Lauren Costantini put together a list of foods for clients who were racing the Great Divide from Canada to Mexico. Yup, Oreos make that list! And Nutter Butters, for which I’ll trade a spare arm during a hungry moment on the trail.

Never roll up on the Monarch Crest general store while hungry…junk food overload!

What to eat in Rural Towns

Nobody likes staring at a menu in a small-town diner and thinking, “Ruh roh, I’m going to starve.” Fear not! There are plenty of calories to be had. You just need to ask for what you want!

For example, during my Oregon Timber Trail journey, my friends and I pedaled like hell into Chemult to beat the 9 pm closing of Lori’s Diner. We were famished after a huge, challenging day of carrying bikes over downed trees. (See above section on traveling light…)

Magically, Lori’s had veggie burgers available! Did I eat two of them and wish I’d ordered three? Yep!

The next morning, we were back for breakfast. Everything on the menu contained animal products, but I deployed my secret weapon: asking for what I wanted.

“Hey, can the cook throw together something for me? Just take hashbrowns and load any vegetables you’ve got into it. Maybe some veggie burger too?” 

The result? A mouth-watering, satisfying breakfast! Even better, when the cook came out and asked how it was, I got to tell him so. He responded that he’d enjoyed cooking something different.

This illustrates an important point: you aren’t necessarily inconveniencing someone by asking for what you want. With potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, vegetables and a random veggie burger (or not), a delicious meal is possible. These staples exist everywhere.

Ask and you shall receive. Be friendly, but not apologetic. You’re a paying customer. Plus, you showed up on a bike, so you’re obviously crazy already.

(Side note: You’ll notice I didn’t worry about the grill being used for cooking meat. For me, this lifestyle isn’t about perfection, but about best efforts. Perfectionism—in ANYTHING—is simply a recipe for giving up and doing nothing.)

Stuffing my face outside a grocery store in Germany.

Food for Bike Touring

Bike touring meals can of course include the exact same stuff as bikepacking. However, it’s easier to live a fancier—and healthier—life when you’re touring on the roads. More frequent, higher-end restaurants are a great example.

In Europe, it’s even easier. Restaurants and grocery stores feature tons of plant-based options and we’ve found even the smallest little B&Bs and restaurants offer something plant-based. The Bios (the name for organic shops) offer fantastic options as well. Organic produce is also less expensive in Europe.

Outside of big cities or when I’m camping, I opt to make my own meals with food from grocery stores. Big salads (I’m talking LOADED with calories), simple burritos or wraps, pasta. It’s not home-cooked deliciousness, but after biking all day, it doesn’t matter— food just tastes better.

Half of a huge dinner salad in Portugal. I basically added a ton of the stuff on the list below!

Here are a few staples I grab in grocery stores or restaurants while road touring. Refrigeration isn’t necessary since it’s down the hatch quickly!

  • Olives
  • Beans
  • Tofu or tempeh: get the marinated stuff for max flavor
  • Nuts (with beans, tofu/tempeh, and seeds, we easily get enough protein on tour)
  • Plant-based meats, cheeses, yogurts and milks.
  • Granola or oatmeal
  • Salad dressing
  • Hummus
  • Any and all vegetables
  • Avocados and guacamole
  • All the fruit: apples, cherries, GRAPES (the best). While we typically don’t carry watermelon, we’ve eaten dozens of them while sitting outside grocery stores. In Europe and the U.S., we load up on fruit at farmer’s markets.
  • Pizzas sans cheese. (“We’ve never had anyone order that,” said one lady with a smile at Casey’s convenience store in Illinois. Pizzas for $10 that we ate like Velociraptors.)
  • Carbs! Bread, tortillas, plant-based pastries if we could find them…fuel those miles.
  • Canned chili, baked beans or lentil soup (Amy’s is a go-to brand of mine)
  • So. Many. Options. Enjoy that bike touring luxury!
Our favorite plant-based blogger, Isa Chandra, happened to open a new restaurant in Omaha the day we biked through. We ate SO much amazing food that day.

Putting Rubber to the Road

Time to hit the road! All that’s left to do is buy a bunch of grub and load your bike up. Before you do, here are a few additional tips to dial in a positive mindset:

  1. Add, don’t subtract. Rather than thinking about things you can’t eat, simply substitute plant options. e.g. get that veggie burger at a restaurant, buy plant-based lunch meat or chili.
  2. It’s not all or nothing. A substantial and meaningful diet shift is best accomplished slowly, piece by piece. You might be surprised how easy it is to eat 75% plant-based with little dislocation to your eating habits. Experiment with plant-based options.
  3. Treat it as a treasure hunt. Enjoying the challenge of seeking out plant-based options is like not buying shitty tomatoes out of season at the grocery store: it’s a bigger reward when you find that special, tasty item. (Coconut Bliss ice cream in a small grocery store in the Midwest comes immediately to mind!)
  4. Feel good knowing you’re helping your health, the environment, and animals. It’s an easy way to have less impact, one bite at a time.

You’re ready to roll! Pick a route, pack your bags, order that grub, and get out there.

For further reading, check out a few of my related bike touring or bikepacking posts:

Lastly, here are a bunch more photos of delicious plant-based food that has fueled me along the way. Just flipping through my trips and seeing this stuff got me excited (and hungry) for the next adventure!

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Photo Gallery

Downshifting from Van Life

I’ve aimed to write this post for over eight months. (All photos in this post are from that time frame too!) It’s for anyone dreaming of traveling long-term, and also for those living that dream wondering, “Will we do this forever?” *** As long-time readers know, Chelsea and I launched our van trip in fall 2013 for a four-month jaunt down the coast of California. “FOUR MONTHS IS SO LONG!” our friends opined. “Don’t forget Oliver,” said Chelsea’s parents as we dropped our fuzzy companion off for cat-sitting. Little did we (and my unsuspecting in-laws) know we’d live the van life for three years, not four months.

Backpacking with Chelsea’s parents in the Jefferson Wilderness last July.

The Magic of Full-Time Travel

The excitement of travel pulled like a large planet’s gravity. We easily fell into an orbit that took us to 18 countries by van, bike, and plane. I freed up time and mental space by hiring more people for my business, extracting myself from day-to-day client work. It was a scary leap with a real chance of disintegrating into a broken heap. (At least we had the van!) Things worked out.

Patrick rappelling off a route at Smith Rock.

So we traveled. It was relaxing, simple in many ways (open calendar, every day!), creatively inspiring, a sabbatical from many of the responsibilities of “adult” existence. I dove into photography and writing and built this blog. My random musings somehow attracted a million visitors and allowed us to meet many adventurous people who eschew the (typical) American Dream. Many readers are in our shoes, professionals tired of living someone else’s narrative of “success.” They’re flipping the bird at the 9-to-5 and proverbial picket fence and heading out to find open space where the wind sings through trees or roars over the desert landscape.

I met Rich and Esther at a trailhead in 2016. “Hey, I know your van!” Here’s Rich a year later zipping down Xanadu, a sweeeet trail with sweeter views near Leavenworth, WA.

We chewed up mountain bike trails, then 7,000 miles of roads while cycle touring the U.S. and Europe. New York and Santa Cruz each distracted us for a month, as did studying Spanish in Mexico, roadtripping Iceland, and volunteering at a farm sanctuary. Our travels also strongly focused on people. We spent quality time with our families and developed friendships all over the globe. I regularly stay in touch with buddies from our travels and see them around the states. By the way, dig these kinds of posts? Sign up for the free Traipsing About newsletter!

Making a snowman with my nephew, Sam. He then crushed me at a snowball fight.

 On the Road…Forever?

At one point, Chelsea asked me, “I wonder if we’ll always be nomads?” At the time, the answer felt like a resounding yes. And yet, like any frequent activity, the shiny luster faded from full-time travel. What started as a sort of sabbatical turned into a repetitive daily orbit of logistics. Traveling went from stimulating immersion in new places to shallow dips into too many places, voyeurism without involvement. Even a few multi-week stays and volunteering felt too short.

Paul dives into Waldo Lake on a chilly October day. Yes, that water is as cold as it looks.

We missed community and tired of constantly saying goodbye. We met adventurous and stoked people, but interactions were short-lived. Was it possible to create a traveling caravan of friends who rolled around together, we wondered…? Instead, we dug deep in a short time period with people, talking life, traveling, unconventional choices. Then travel inertia – gotta keep moving! – or common courtesy to not overstay our welcome would grab hold. We’d exchange hugs, talk about plans to meet in the future, and point our wheels toward the distant horizon.

Enjoying the views off NW chair with my buddy Robert on Mt. Bachelor. That’s Sparks Lake and South Sister in the distance.

The Travel Pull

When I questioned why I wanted to keep traveling, I unearthed four primary reasons: 1) Daily access to the outdoors 2) Momentum (we’re moving and therefore must keep moving) 3) Positive reinforcement feeding my ego (people saying “wow, I’ve always wanted to do that!” or “you’re living the dream!”) 4) That we COULD travel full-time, so we should (right?). Not if it no longer fed what we sought to do or how we wanted to grow. Of those four aspects, only daily outdoor access made sense anymore. Chelsea felt this earlier than I did and was ready to land in one place.

There’s a metaphor here about hanging onto something…

I’ve seen this shift in dozens of travelers. Friends with big social media followings or a popular blog often hit a point where another new place didn’t ring their bell anymore. Posting online starts to feel forced, a job rather than a joy. Their social media profiles blinked out, blog posts shifted to every few weeks, then quarterly, then gone. I was no exception.

A magic, strenuous day on Angel’s Staircase in the N. Cascades.

Figuring out where to park the van was the hard part. When we’d return to Portland for visits, I felt trapped by the big city. The combination of gray days and no quick access to nature dragged on me. I was depressed and irritable, frustrated with concrete and traffic. During our travels, we eyed mountain towns in the west as potential places to pop out landing gear and stick around for awhile. Santa Cruz, Boulder, San Luis Obispo, Bozeman. There was always a reason a place didn’t feel right. Enter Bend, Oregon, the seat of Lifestyle Awesomeness. We’d visited the surrounding area a fair amount, but never dug into the city. After traveling Iceland and Canada in 2016, we rolled the van into Bend to rent a friend’s place and see how things shook out.

Sunset at Old Mill on the Deschutes River in Bend.

How It Feels to Be In One Place

Over a year later, our new homebase is Bend! We sold our Portland home and bought a house in Bend in a quirky, connected neighborhood. People don’t randomly wind up in Bend. Most work hard and create the opportunity to live here. We’ve discovered new friends are available and prioritize investing in friendship and family, time outside, health, travel and giving back to the community. We’re loving the strong community of active, positive, engaged friends and the easily accessible outdoor magic.

Cookbook club! Get a bunch of friends together and cook amazing food from one vegan cookbook per month. It’s that easy!

Thanks to prioritizing access to and preservation of public lands, Bend is an outdoor playground with miles of singletrack for mountain biking and running, skiing on Mt. Bachelor and world-class rock climbing at Smith Rock. If there’s a downside to the town, it’s minor growing pains as it goes from small to medium size. Sometimes there’s a 3 min wait at a roundabout! (NOOOO.) What makes Bend resonate for us isn’t solely the outdoor wonderland. For a mountain town, there’s a lot going on. Music, coffee shops, kombucha makers and breweries galore (not that I drink beer!), unlimited festivals in the summer, all the running and biking events you’d ever want, and a growing business hub are just a sampler. The open space we created for traveling shifted easily to other arenas. A natural organizer, Chelsea spearheaded things. She joined the board of a local vegan nonprofit, started a plant-powered running group and cookbook club, and filled our calendars with marches, fundraisers, and political events. In a year, we’re more involved in Bend than we ever were in Portland.

Plant-Powered Runners! This crew is awesome.

Rallying friends at our house for the Jan 2018 Women’s March in Bend.

On top of that, I’m finding myself more active in Bend. This is thanks to the strong outdoors scene and access to everything I love to do so close to our door. I spent 2017 in a mix of physical activity (perhaps too much!), joining events with Chelsea, and investing energy into my business. This year, I’m aiming for less work and more creative time and travel, plus weekly Plant-Powered Runners outings, big dinner parties, and community events. I’m surprised how easily time traveling is filled with other satisfying pursuits.

How can you not get outside with this 30 minutes away?

So What’s the Plan, Yo?

This city is a stellar fit for us and we’ve decided Bend is our home for the foreseeable future. We’re rooting, but we will still step off into sweet adventures. “Are you selling the van!?” people have asked. No. Freaking. Way. Too many climbing areas the van needs to visit! I also need it to scope out the trails around Crested Butte, c’mon! A trip to Wyoming and Idaho is already slated for May.

My shredder friend Jeremy launching off Trail #3 at Cline Butte with the Cascades in the background.

We’re kicking around an idea for another bike tour; the idea of long climbing trips to Greece, Spain, or Mexico makes me salivate. These travel boots aren’t even close to done walking! This is a shift to a lifestyle we talked about for the past few years. We’ll dig deep into community and still water the seeds of travel when we feel the itch. By spending months in Bend mixed with trips near and far, we’ll polish both sides of the travel and home coin.

A snowy Crater Lake during a week-long mountain biking van trip to Southern Oregon.

Van Life as a Mindset

The social media tag #vanlife represents freedom from a staid, boring existence. There’s a reason Millennials are flocking to it. We’re repeating the paths of anti-establishment parents back in the 1960s. This time around, though, people can work remotely, freelancing from Yosemite, writing software code from Moab, or editing science papers in a ski resort parking lot. Even if Chelsea and I aren’t traveling in a van full-time, #vanlife carries into the way we live. For me, it’s a mentality as much as a way of life, encompassing adventure, minimalism, and an open-minded, flexible approach to travel. It’s an examined, intentional approach.

About to examine the downhill on Fuji Mountain near Waldo Lake!

This is a new phase, and not the last. I expect continuing shifts filled with moments for play and exploring, time for growth and building, space to give back, and occasionally the chance to do it all. There’s no playbook for this version of the American Dream, just an evolving patchwork quilt called life. A stitch here and there adding new experiences, a rearranging of the patterns as needed. It’s about the adventure of living a balanced, exciting life of play, community and contribution. Full-time travel no longer lit us up, so it was time for a shift. We all need to weave together pleasure, purpose, and pride. Done correctly, it creates a strong rope to hoist away toward a happy, satisfied life. That’s our aim in this next stage. The ever-evolving book of our lives continues. The Bend chapter continues with rip-roaring satisfaction and fun. Instead of “going places to be moved,” as Pico Iyer describes travel, we’ve landed and sunk both feet in deep, toes gripping, arms wide. It feels great.

We’re still having fun!

*** Have you traveled long-term and felt the pull to land somewhere? I’d love to hear how you handled the shift from full-time travel to a rooted existence.

What I Learned Bike Touring 7,000 Miles on a Vegan Diet

Pedaling up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park cycle touring

This post first appeared here on Mind Body Green.

Over the past two summers, Chelsea and I have cycled 7,000 miles through 14 countries. No sag wagon, no designated route—just leg power, our bikes, gear, and desire for adventure.

During our travels, we accept local advice and hospitality, wake up open to each day’s surprises, and wing it whenever possible. But one thing we are always adamantly consistent about is our food. For ethical, health, and environmental reasons, we choose not to eat any animal products.

The bike tours were challenging, eye-opening, fantastic—a full range of emotions every day. From headwinds to breathtaking views to searing heat to idyllic European villages to crumbling rural towns, we pedaled through it all. Navigating cobblestone cycle paths in France was a pain; finding great vegan food while burning 5,000 calories per day proved to be a simple aspect of the trip.

Here’s what thousands of miles and a couple million pedal strokes of cycle touring on a vegan diet has taught me. Also worth reading: my how-to post about bikepacking on a plant-based diet.

Few people are surprised about your food choices

Special diets are everywhere now, and most people know someone on one. “Oh, my cousin is gluten-free” or “my brother eats Paleo” was a common refrain. Tiny cafés in Nebraska (not exactly a vegan stronghold) easily accommodated our needs by piling vegetables on hash browns.

Getting enough protein is not an issue

Even biking 50 to 80 miles per day, my body repaired itself and built muscle. I trimmed fat, but my leg muscles grew. I even added muscle to my upper body by doing daily upper-body workouts. When people ask me where I get my protein, I can honestly say that I simply eat lots of plants. No powders, no supplements—just real food. I’m more concerned about fiber—only 3 percent of people eat enough each day, versus 97 percent of people who get enough protein.

Just over the pass in Glacier National Park.

My energy levels were firing

Unlike the days when I’d eat a giant sandwich with cheese and meat and sink into an afternoon stupor, plants don’t bog down my body. A veggie burrito or big salad crafted from ingredients in any grocery store keeps my system cranking. I was biking eight hours a day and still had energy to do push-ups each night.

Recovery was super fast

I rebounded and recovered quickly from physical efforts that would have previously sidelined me for a couple of days. Since a plant-based diet leads to lower inflammation, faster recovery from athletic events or workouts is an added bonus.

Many top athletes are vegan

I was attracted to a vegan lifestyle by the potential health benefits. Badass vegan athletes like UFC fighter Mac Danzig, ultra-marathoners like Scott Jurek, and triathletes like Rich Roll inspired me to give it a shot. While I wasn’t cranking out record-smashing 100-mile runs or choke-holds, I noticed an increase in performance.

Seeing and smelling animal feedlots opened my eyes to the plight of animals

Biking past stinking feedlots in the rolling hills of Iowa and Austria was gnarly. Getting buzzed by animal transport trucks on their way to slaughterhouses reinforced my desire to completely opt out of animal agriculture.

The excellent bike paths of Slovenia with the Julian Alps in the background.

Western Europe is a plant eater’s paradise

Countries like Belgium, Spain, and Germany are years ahead of the U.S. in terms of vegan awareness and availability of plant-based alternatives. Grocery stores stock inexpensive organic produce, and almost every restaurant server knew the word vegan, even in rural villages. Big cities are a plant-eater’s promised land—Prague has 26 vegetarian restaurants!

We didn’t have to worry about refrigerating food

This is a small thing only a cycle tourist will appreciate. When we were pedaling through the middle of nowhere for days at a time, unspoiled food was a big deal.

Both Europe and the United States grow amazing amounts of corn and soy

I knew the Midwest U.S. was a breadbasket. It was a surprise to discover the same in Europe, where much of the countryside is used for crop production. Between the two, we spent literally two months cycling past fields of corn and soy—90 percent of it aimed for animal consumption.

Traveling made us vegan ambassadors

In some areas, we were the first vegans anyone had met. “Wait, no cheese on your pizza?” People were incredibly nice and also intrigued by our food choices. Many asked questions. Our goal was to be knowledgeable and speak from a place of conviction (animal rights) or data (health and environmental facts). The biggest thing? To be genuinely friendly and meet people at their comfort level.

Touring through the Adirondack Mountains of New York on a perfect fall day.

After thousands of miles of cycle touring, our belief in a vegan lifestyle has never been stronger. Few choices affect personal health, the environment, and animal welfare as much as opting out of animal agriculture does. Meat and dairy consumption is declining, restaurants are increasingly catering to vegans, and vegan alternatives like Beyond Meat are flourishing. Traveling as a vegetarian or vegan will only get easier.

As Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary says, “This lifestyle is not about deprivation; it’s about living inspired.” I encourage people to check out movements like Meatless Mondays or the 30-Day Vegan Challenge. See how your body feels and adopt what works for you. Then get out there on your bike and start training for your next (or first) bike tour.

I plan on pedaling thousands more miles as a vegan, so maybe I’ll see you out there!

By the way, dig these kinds of posts? Sign up for the free 2x/month Traipsing About newsletter for more tales from the mountains and creative challenges like drawing and piano when I’m off the bike.

Advice for a New Long-Distance Bicycle Tourist

Cycling through vino in France

This post is for the person dreaming of hopping on a bicycle and embarking on a self-powered journey. All you need are limbs for propulsion, a bike to haul gear, and a dash of audacity.

The hardest advice for me to follow is my own, but the below is rooted in my personal cycle touring experience. Prior to last summer, I’d done two weekend cycle tour jaunts. Then we ripped off the training wheel Band-Aid and rode 4,000 miles through the U.S. in 2014. I’m sure a few of our friends wondered whether we’d make it. Heck, we wondered if we’d make it. Yet we survived (and enjoyed) our trip. Now here we are, nine countries into a bike tour through Europe, with many miles and lessons picked up up along the way.

Crossing into France from Germany on the Euro Velo 5 bike route.

Crossing into France from Germany on the Euro Velo 5 bike route.

Bike touring is a wild, wonderful way to travel, and everyone’s experience is different. Take whichever nuggets of advice speak to you and ignore the rest. May tailwinds find you wherever you pedal.

    • You don’t need a special bike. Don’t let lack of a shiny, brand-new touring setup stop you from hitting the road. You can tour on almost any bike. A $100 yard sale bike or $4,000 titanium rig both have two wheels. Same thing for tents, stoves, sleeping bags and pads; you don’t need the ultra-light version. Logistics are quite simple. Just get out there and pedal. As a bonus, the heavier the gear, the more calories you burn and the more you get to eat.
    • Say yes to invitations. Always accept when someone invites you to join them for a meal or to stay at their home. (Unless they’re wearing a hockey mask and carrying a running chainsaw.) The best parts of touring include unplanned, serendipitous meetings with people. I’d never have flown in a seaplane in New York if shaking my head was my reaction to an invitation.
    • It’s your trip, so ride only as much as you desire. That century you want to crank out for bragging rights? It only matters to you. Nobody cares how quickly you finish the tour, the average number of miles per day, or the total elevation ridden. (Well, nobody except your addicted-to-Crossfit friend who needs NUMBERS, damn it, to wrap their head around any accomplishment.) But everyone else? They want to know the craziest and coolest places or people that you met along the way. How the trip made you feel. Which vista made your heart sing, and maybe a tale of the wettest, worst day on the road. But the mileage? Thirty per day is fine, and so is 100. Take what feels good and go with that. Feel free to curse under your breath when a 23 year old and his friend rip by you like drag racers. Their speed, and your plodding uphill grind, are both a-ok.
      Villages along an old canal
    • Accept that not everyone identifies with what you’re doing. As my uncle Steven respectfully commented after we’d ridden to Chicago, “I think you’re insane!” Also, people who don’t tour have no idea why you’re doing it, but they’ll have a story about another cycle tourist doing something way cooler than you such as riding a vintage Big Wheel around the world while building orphanages along the way. Accept that the random dude in Indiana with a story to tell isn’t trying to trump your experience; he’s merely looking for common ground. Laugh and go with it.
    • Eat real food. Lots of it. Hunger will become an annoying companion who taps you on the shoulder every hour – “just sayin’ heyyyy.” Try to consume healthy whole foods and not just Poptarts. Your body is working hard and good food is important. I am amazed how many grocery stores in the middle of nowhere have ingredients for a crisp, hearty salad. Feel free to eat your body weight in chocolate here and there too.

      Chelsea's vegan enchiladas plus wine from the French region of Alsatia.

      Chelsea’s vegan enchiladas plus wine from the French region of Alsace.

    • Your butt is going to hurt from all the hours grinding on a saddle. Get over your pride early and grease up. Vasoline works great and you can find it in any gas station. Learn to apply lube discreetly, such as by the side of a busy highway at rush hour with your back turned to the road. Most policeman have bigger fish to fry than indecent public self-groping.
    • Pack light, but bring a couple comfort items. A few luxuries from home go a long way. Bring a Kindle reader, a journal, coffee making equipment or tech to stay connected. I recommend leaving your teddy bear at home unless he’s the trip mascot, and certainly if you won him at the county fair and he outweighs your bike.
    • Audiobooks and podcasts will preserve your sanity on the long, tough days. Anyone who claims they don’t need these magical devices are too Zen to need a bike (levitation is faster for travel) or haven’t tried them yet. I borrow books digitally from the library, and podcasts are always free.
    • Keep things in perspective as shit goes awry. Travel opens you up to life’s randomness; bicycle touring doubly so. Weather, be it rain, heat, cold, or wind. Hills. Flat tires. Closed grocery stores from 2-5 (seriously Europe?). Hosts cancelling at the last minute. Some days will go to plan, and others will pour rain and your bike will tip over while you’re getting directions, carefully distributing all your electronics into a puddle. Accept that best-laid intentions are mere dandelion puffs in a stiff breeze, and also that swearing loudly in a foreign land makes you look like a moron. You are lucky enough to bike tour. Try to appreciate it, even when all you want to do is kick your bike into a ditch and stick your thumb out to hitchhike.

      The worst days are canceled by brilliant cities like Colmar, France.

      The worst days are canceled by brilliant cities like Colmar, France.

    • People want to help you. They’ll wonder what the heck you’re doing riding a bicycle in the middle of nowhere – “what’d you do, get a DUI?” – but someone you’d never talk to in your hometown will be your champion. They’ll buy you a burrito in a restaurant in Valentine, Nebraska or offer a spare tube for a flat repair in Los Angeles. Even the guy with an old beater truck plastered with NoBama stickers will rescue you when bike trouble occurs, not to mention break out his stash of prized bourbon later that evening.
    • None of your friends will have any idea where you are or how hard that day in the wind/rain/sun/hailstones felt. Know they love you and support your trip, but accept that life goes on in your absence and that you will be disconnected from the day-to-day of many people in your life. Send goofy videos of you escaping from a thunderstorm, or sing off-key happy birthday messages, but don’t expect anyone to catch every post. And don’t take it personally when people you expected to follow along have no desire to keep track of you.

      The day-to-day of touring. This wonderful, cool fountain near the Swiss border in France felt delightful.

      The day-to-day of touring. This wonderful, cool fountain near the Swiss border in France felt delightful.

    • Send your mom a note whenever you can letting her know you’re ok. She’ll love it.
    • Embrace safety. Endorse your inner cyborg and get a helmet or bar-end mirror to keep track of your riding partner and, more importantly, texting teenagers. You don’t look cool in Spandex anyway. I feel naked on a bike without one. Oh, and get a bell or horn for your bike. Yelling “on your left” invariably makes people step into your path, especially when you don’t speak the language. Everyone knows what a bell means.

      Car-free bike routes are absolutely the best.

      Car-free bike routes like this one in France are fantastic.

    • This isn’t a beach vacation. Bike touring is physically and emotionally challenging. Some day whip by like summer vacations on a Slip-N-Slide, while others drag like a Saturday spent taking the SAT’s. On the toughest days, make sure to stop to run through a sprinkler or goof around on a random piece of playground equipment. Pull over to moo at cute baby cows or play fetch with a dog at a picnic area. There’s no hurry.
    • Cherish your days off. Unless you are aiming to win Race Across America, don’t ride every day. Enjoy and explore a cool city with new friends. Sit around. Go for a run and see if your muscles remember what not biking feels like. Read a book. Call a friend or write a blog post. The more I cycle tour, the better I appreciate days to relax and absorb a place at a slower speed.

There are 237 excuses for staying put. Careers. Student loans. Love interests. Family. Pets. Societal norms. Fear. All of that is real, but in a decade, you’ll remember and cherish the memories of pedaling the world and expanding your horizons.

Your current life can probably pause, but the new you itching to break out, to have an adventure, won’t wait forever. Feed the explorer inside you before it calcifies and forgets how to run wild. Let that explorer bellow like a bull moose as you sweep down a mountain pass.

Just go. No reason needed other than your desire to wander. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”

The imposing, giant Strasbourg cathedral.

The imposing, giant Strasbourg cathedral.

We happened to catch the 1,000 year millennial of the Strasbourg cathedral. This light show detailed each statue and window on the enormous cathedral.

We happened to catch the 1,000 year millennial of the cathedral. This light show detailed each statue and window on the enormous building.

Pudding Wine? I’ll Just Have the Chips, Thanks

Tree-lined pathI’ve never had trouble ordering a drink before. Then I went to England.

“I’ll have a water,” I told my server at a London restaurant. He stared at me as if I were speaking a dialect of Baboon. “Wa-ter,” I repeated. He shook his head, sorry to be dealing with someone so incredibly stupid.

Two more tries, both of us 100% certain the other was a bleeding idiot. Then, he got it. “Oh, woh-tuh!”

If there is one experience so far that sums up the difference between England and the U.S., that almost-fail of a drink order is it. You see, I’ve found most things are similar to back home, but all experiences contain a slight tweak.

Tweaks like smaller vehicle exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this pathway is too narrow...

Tweaks like smaller vehicle-exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this is too narrow…


There’s the language, which is the “same,” yet totally different. Speed bumps are “humped crossings” (giggle) or “sleeping policeman,” as a speeding taxi driver told us. Pants are underwear, and trousers are pants. (I still haven’t figured out which to wear as an exterior layer.) Courgette is zucchini, aubergine is eggplant, and “the dog’s bollocks” means “that is the shit.” Pudding is dessert, as in “pudding wine” for a sweet finish to a meal. And while we’re talking about food, all lodging features hot water boilers for tea, but never coffee makers.

As you may know, everyone drives on the left side of the road in England. Easy enough, right? Well, this is terrifying on a bike and makes me feel hunted at traffic intersections. I carefully look both ways, but fully expect a vehicle to drop out of the sky and crush me nonetheless. Roundabouts replace stop sign intersections and act as slingshots for the vehicles that gun through them like rocket ships trying to escape a planet’s pull.

Fields and paths

Luckily, most of our days are spent on car-free paths like this.

Away from cities, bike lanes and the national cycling network make for quiet, scenic riding. Compared to touring in the U.S., equivalent mileage takes much longer here. In the States, we might follow one or two quiet highways all day, which allowed for consistent pedaling. Route finding is tougher here, with dozens of tricky turns to navigate. Beyond that, the riding is slower through gated fields, bumpy canal walkways with ancient bridges, and gravel paths in the middle of nowhere. It’s a shift in mentality to ride fewer miles, but we’re handling it nicely so far.

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

Slightly random, but I am impressed by the ADA accessibility. Most toilets (as bathrooms are called) are designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with low sinks and plentiful grab handles. Hand dryers also replace paper towels. It’s as if the country is designed for the least physically capable. Perhaps I’m reading into it, but to me that’s a representation of England’s willingness to take care of society’s fringes, whether through welfare, medical care, or something as simple as a handle to assist getting off the can.

Tipping is also different. It’s rarely done, and then only at nice restaurants of the type we aren’t allowed to patronize in full spandex cycling garb. I think the lack of tips explains why bartenders will kick people out at exactly closing time. A British woman told us that servers and salespeople in the U.S. felt overly saccharine and helpful; to us, the distant, pre-occupied employees seem almost rude. I should also point out that tipping is unrelated to, “no fly tipping,” which means “don’t dump your junky furniture in this field.” (In the U.S., the sign would say “no illegal dumping.”)

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan's wedding to his beautiful and oh-so-nice new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts!) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan’s wedding to his lovely new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our surprise attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts to hide it from Ryan.) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

People still live in houses. Except here in England, many residences are OLD. Like, built-800-years-ago old. People who visit the U.S. marvel at the shiny, big, and new; we are struck by the quaint and ancient. Pedaling along country lanes past stone fences laid centuries ago, bouncing over cobblestones in a tiny village, or enjoying a chai in a market square (every city we’ve seen has a walking-only central shopping district), we are struck by how present history is here versus covered by “progress.” Back home on the west coast, old is 120 years. Here, that’s scarcely a blip on time’s fickle radar. When a gravestone laments the death of someone who died from The Black Plague, that is old.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

It feels good to be bike touring! Assembling the trip and traveling abroad was exhausting, but jet lag’s gloomy mist has cleared and our brain’s are working again. I am quite relaxed compared to last year when we pushed hard on the bikes and threw down mileage every day. We smile and laugh at town names like “Leighton Buzzard” or “Heath and Reach” and take each day as a fresh adventure. Less mileage means the slower going is fine, a nice treat.

Bridges and canals

In fact, we decided to kick back for an impromptu birthday stop today at That Amazing Place, a 1000 year-old monastery turned B&B. I could wax poetic about this divine location for a full paragraph, but suffice to say it features both a custom-built obstacle course AND complimentary wine refills while relaxing in the hot tub with a view of the English countryside. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 33rd birthday! (Unfortunately, I missed the obstacle course record by a bit. I must be getting old.)

In two days, we’ll roll the bikes aboard a night ferry on England’s east coast. The next morning, we’ll wake up in Holland and wheel south toward Belgium. And that’s what makes Europe the dog’s bollocks: each country is a short hop (or pedal) away, yet represents a new language, fresh customs, and a totally different experience. I may continue to have issues ordering drinks, but at least we’ll be back on the right (excuse me, correct) side of road soon.

Back windows

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced "Bister").

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced “Bister”).

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

Cyborgs on Bikes – Bike Touring Video (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of 4 of the video series documenting our 101 day trip cycling across the the U.S. in the summer of 2014. If you missed Part 2, click here to check it out. This section covers from Indiana to the middle of upstate New York.

A gorgeous night on Fletcher Lake in Indiana. Jumped in for a swim and then we watched lightning on the horizon before camping out under a giant maple tree and listening to the rain on the tent.

A gorgeous night on Fletcher Lake in Indiana. Jumped in for a swim and then we watched lightning on the horizon before camping out under a giant maple tree and listening to the rain on the tent.

Three thousand miles into the tour, we are like cyborgs on bikes. With day-to-day routines nailed (except for my elusive rain jacket, which hides in the bottom of a pannier during storms) and legs forged from steely dragon’s teeth, we zip east. Most days, we don’t even break a sweat (<–dirty lie, even cyborgs sweat in 90% humidity).

At this point, we’re both starting to think about Maine, a far-distant mirage in our minds for the first 2/3 of the trip. The realization that we might actually complete the tour without our bodies breaking down feels great. But first, we finish out Indiana, head up toward Cleveland and then skirt along the southern edge of Lake Erie all the way to Niagara Falls before heading east into upstate New York. The magnitude of the effort to get this far sank in as the fall colors of New York beckoned from afar and the days cooled off, a welcome change.

A little metal barn in the middle of nowhere on a back country road in Indiana.

A little metal barn in the middle of nowhere on a back country road in Indiana. Sad news: C’s rainbow socks wore out by the end of the trip. 🙁

You’ll notice I’m goofier in this series. Believe me, all videos are off-the-cuff and I (obviously) don’t employ a joke writer. I think you’ll get a couple chuckles at our random antics as we roll from nowhere Indiana all the way into the NE. If nothing else, it’s a good picture of what the terrain looks like!

Here’s the movie link for email subscribers, or click play below on the embedded video if you visit the site directly. Enjoy.


P.S. There are a few more photos below the movie if you want to check those out first.

Between the motorcycle rallies and car shows, we learned quite a bit about vehicles. (Not.)

Between all the motorcycle rallies and car shows we biked through, we learned quite a bit about vehicles. Ok, not really.

A family fishes off a bridge in Ohio.

The thing to do (apparently) in Grand Rapids, Ohio is to go fishing at sunset off a small dam in town.

Cold beans by the side of the road. Accessed with an old-school can opener, no less.

Cold beans by the side of the road (on a hot day at least). Accessed with an old-school can opener, no less.

Always fun to find covered bridges!

Always fun to find covered bridges! This one is in Roann, Indiana.

Punching Through the Midwest – Bike Touring Video (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of 4 of the video series documenting our 101 day trip cycling across the the U.S. in the summer of 2014. If you missed Part 1, click here to check it out. This section covers from Spearfish, South Dakota all the way to the Indiana border. Straight through the heart of the Midwest in summer like true masochists. 

Corn crop

We didn’t plan to bike through the Midwest in August. It just worked out that way. Our timing, framed around hitting New England during peak fall colors, meant we had to spend some time in the sweltering summer. To echo Vonnegut, so it goes… Trade-offs are part of living.

After clearing Montana, we headed south through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Instead of highways, we spent a few days on the Mickelson Trail, which is a 110-mile gravel trail that cuts right through the heart of the area near Mt. Rushmore. Timing it perfectly (not), we managed to hit the area just as 500,000 motorcycles descended like loud, buzzing bees for the Sturgis Rally. I think I heard, “Put an engine on that thing!” almost as much as “I could never do what you’re doing.”

Foggy morning in Nebraska in the corn fields.

Foggy morning in Nebraska in the corn fields.

I asked a bartender in Cody, NE (pop 154) if they knew anyone who might take us in for the night since a big storm was rolling in. Isla helped us out and her cheery granddaughter made us laugh and laugh.

I asked a bartender in Cody, NE (pop 154) if they knew anyone who might take us in for the night since a big storm was rolling in. Isla helped us out and her cheery granddaughter made us laugh and laugh.

The Midwest gets a bad rap sometimes, and part of it is a bit undeserved. Take Nebraska, for instance. I think most people picture horribly flat, ugly terrain stretching for miles. Flat? On the highways, yes. Country roads were rolling and nice. Ugly? Not in the NW part of the state in the pretty, rolling Sand Hills region. We lucked out and fog was more prevalent than crushing sun for the first half of Nebraska. Clear, hot skies came as we neared Omaha, as did gnarly traffic. My advice is to avoid big cities whenever possible if you go touring because navigating them on bicycle is often difficult or just plain nerve-wracking.

Iowa’s surprise was constant rolling steep hills, not flat corn country. We toiled up them through temperatures soaring into the high 90’s in humidity so thick we could have backstroked in it. Locals were kind, generous and excited to talk to us. A new idea (to us) was Casey’s, a gas station chain also featuring pizza ovens. We ate no-cheese, veggie pizza ($12.74 with tax) and scored ice cubes for our water bottles frequently to survive. That convenience was unfortunately offset by the stink of factory farms and the doomed animals inside them that permeated the air in many stretches of the state. An up-close, visceral look at the underbelly of our food system.

Up close and personal with a soy bean field.

Up close and personal with a soy bean field.

In eastern Iowa, road shoulders were 10 feet wide to accommodate the large Amish population and their buggies, which whisk along behind quickly trotting horses. We stopped at Stringtown Grocery, an Amish establishment featuring re-bagged bulk goods branded under the store’s name. And then we hit a big milestone – The Mississippi River! I stared at the flat brown flowing waters and thought of the Louisiana Purchase. To think that a huge chunk of land west of this grand body of water at one point wasn’t even part of the United States before France sold it to us. 2,300 miles on our bikes to get here and we were barely half way to Maine.

Scenery past the Mississippi was the cliche Midwest fare. Rather non-descript days pedaling through the corn and soy fields of Illinois blend together into podcasts and audiobooks that curbed the monotony a bit. Long days in the sun melded into one big mass of states starting with I as we left Iowa for Illinois and Indiana.

Corn fields and a rusty silo to hold the bounty.

Corn fields and a rusty silo to hold the bounty.

Our ability to forget difficult trials is powerful. This portion of our tour is scarcely three months ago and yet feels so long ago. The events of August in the Midwest are already softer in my mind. Memories of days where we had to linger in a gas station to let our internal temperatures cool down are slipping away. The sun’s fangs are blunted and the sauna of the humidity diminishes. Even the sameness of the landscape – corn, soy, repeat – looks better in the pictures.

What remains etched in stone is a mental confidence that we persevered as a team, pushing through conditions we normally would choose to avoid at all costs. The crucible of the Midwest forged our relationship into a stronger bond. For that reason alone, this tough section of the tour was worth it.

Enough chit chat. How about that video?! Email subscribers: click here for Part 2 of 4. Visitors to the website, just click play below in the embedded video. Enjoy…and see you shortly in Part 3!




Cranking Through the Rockies – Bike Touring Video (Part 1 of 4)

Waterton National Park, Alberta

I rarely look back. Forward, onward, tally ho! Always new adventures on the horizon, people to visit, places to see, as they say. Perhaps you’ve picked up on that?

Maybe that’s the reason I so enjoyed digging into the videos from our bike tour between hikes in Acadia National Park while we “kicked back” in Maine. Photos are fun to flip through, but they don’t pick up the wind, the rumble of a motorcycle, a joke or stupid song (there were lots) or the patter of raindrops. And even though the experiences are fresh, taking the journey anew through the videos was a fabulous time. I loved combining them into one continuous film voyage to bring you along for the ride and hopefully inspire you to take your own tour. Or maybe convince you that touring is the dumbest thing ever and you’d rather get on a plane to Cabo instead. (I had those thoughts…see Day 23 in the video.)

It was interesting watching my tone change as the trip progressed. You can literally see me relax and get into a flow where I was less stressed or worried. Lots more joking as my goofy side took charge and my business side (which isn’t the real me anyway) slid into the background. It was still there taking care of logistics, but the rest of the time I was more carefree and open to whatever came our way. I think you’ll notice too.

When we were deciding if extended touring was for us, I would have loved to see a video like this with commentary from the rider rather than just music. From a couple hours of clips, I cut it way down to pass along the ups and downs of touring plus scenery from many parts of the country that most people never visit. I think you’ll dig it!

This is part 1 of 4 and covers 32 days from our start in Viola, Idaho to Spearfish, SD over 1,346 miles. (Here’s part 2.) Come along for the ride! It winds through the Rocky Mountains with some amazing scenery in Glacier and Waterton National Parks. Then we hit the plains and roll across Montana in a diagonal line to Spearfish, South Dakota.

Email subscribers, click here to view the video. Others, just click play below to watch the embedded version. A note that all videos were taken with an iPhone and were impromptu, unrehearsed and occasionally ridiculous. I wouldn’t have it any other way.



P.S. In case you haven’t seen it, check out the stats summary with all the numbers from our bike tour.


Bicycle Touring Logistics: 1,000 Miles of Nuts and Bolts

A bee explores a sunflower as Chelsea whizzes past in the Plains.

A bee explores a sunflower as Chelsea whizzes past in the Plains.

Life on a bike tour is a simple existence, and over 1,000 miles cycling in the last few weeks, our daily existence has hit a rhythm of sorts. This post describes the different aspects of the day-to-day logistics underpinning the soaring views, descents off mountain passes and hanging with wonderful people. After all, surviving a journey like this requires staying on top of practical, boring tasks, even when we’re exhausted and grimy from a hard day of riding. Which is every day!

What’s Our Day Look Like?

Each day we aim to pedal our way 50-60 miles on quiet highways or back roads to our destination. Distance per day, with a peak so far of 74 and a low of 28, largely depends on elevation gain and whether there are any services to be had such as water, stores and restaurants. For example, we’ll ride 30 miles and then 65 the next day to avoid a huge day or dodge camping in an oil field or on a ranch where we wake up with a bull steer stomping on our face. Also, we didn’t bring a water filter because apparently filtering puddles filled with arsenic and pesticides will turn your oatmeal and hair green, so our no-services range is about 100 miles.

For those of you picturing us hammering straight through the day, let me quickly dispel that notion. Bike touring is about the journey! Breaks along the way, usually every hour or so, are for food, stretching or lying flat on our backs in the middle of a field, which is just as nice as it sounds unless there are mosquitoes or no shade. We stop anywhere that seems interesting, be it to wander around museums (still searching for the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine), eat (constantly), meet people (the weirder, the better) or simply catch a break from the taint-grinding of multi-day long-distance cycling.

Catching a lunch break in SW Montana on a back road.

Catching a lunch break in SW Montana on a back road.

And so our days are spent pedaling for 4-8 hours and 10-12 hours from start to stop, passing through small towns of 50 people up to a few thousand. Rural America at its best! Let me say this: with that much time in the sun, tan lines quickly become a print model’s worst nightmare! We took another cyclist’s advice and picked up Pearl Izumi sun sleeves, which are white, lightweight cover-ups that slip on and prevent Scorched Arm Syndrome.

Chelsea and a giant piece of farm machinery share Highway 2 in northern Montana.

Chelsea and a giant piece of farm machinery share Highway 2 in northern Montana. A short stint on a busy stretch – most roads we cruise only have a few cars an hour on them.

The Basics

We wake up in the tent, or on a bed or floor in someone’s house or in the occasional hotel. Traveling long-term always requires me to take stock of my surroundings and recall where I am – “oh yeah, N. Montana today, not the van in SoCal.” Then I bounce out of bed to make breakfast while Chelsea clears out the tent. In an effort to avoid turning into a pencil-armed T-Rex with no upper body strength, some sets of push-ups, burpees and core exercises kick things off. An occasional hoot of derision from a passing pickup truck is well-deserved, I should add.

Showering off in a FREEZING lake in Montana.

Showering off in a FREEZING lake in Montana.

Next, we break camp and hit the road. Wake up time depends on how late we were up with hosts the night before, and weather is a factor as well. If it’s going to be 95, we’re up earlier, with 5 the earliest so far. (Tough when it’s light until 10:30 at night this far north!) We’ve left as late as 11 on shorter days when the weather is cool. As we head east and August heat waves roll in, we’ll be up early for sure to beat headwinds and heat. No, I won’t put money on that. 🙂

Do You Sleep Under Picnic Tables in a Cardboard Box?

Nope, just out in the open clutching our bear spray with cycling shoes clipped into our pedals. Or in culverts hiding from the law, depending how the day went. Some are better than others out here in the Wild West.

Some nights, we make a lean-to teepee instead of pitching the tent.

Some nights, we make a lean-to teepee instead of pitching the tent.

Nah, we either camp, grab the occasional hotel when bleary eyes and tired legs need comfort, or stay at a gracious host’s home (Couchsurfing/Warm Showers/friend). Also worth mentioning is something we’ve discovered along the way: small city parks are open to anyone wanting to pitch a tent next to the jungle gym. Yep, even drifters like us with hunger-addled minds. It’s a reminder that people are so generous and open-hearted; city folks could learn a lot from rural America. We certainly are. Though our political beliefs may occasionally differ, we’re all human at our core and will go out of our way to help a stranger, even a sweaty one dressed in some weird Spandex outfit.

Thousands of hay bales are scattered across fields this time of year. We have yet to sleep in one of them...

Thousands of hay bales are scattered across fields this time of year. We have yet to sleep in one of them…

Our gear is a mix of comfort and lightweight. The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 is a great three-person tent – more space and a bit more weight is so worth it for this many days on the road! We also have inflatable sleeping pads (Q Core SL) from Big Agnes that are comfortable and thick, yet pack down to a tiny size. Warning: they sound like a snorting walrus when you roll over on them at night. Chelsea has a 15 degree bag from Nemo and I’m rocking an REI original sleeping bag from her grandma. Works great, even if the weight suggests geese are still attached to the down.

Does all this stuff really fit in six panniers? Exploding Travel Gear Inc.

Does all this stuff really fit in six panniers? Exploding Travel Gear Inc.

Couchsurfing and Warm Showers Rule

Traveling reinforces the fact that people are amazingly generous. They will invite complete strangers into their home and share their space as if we were family. A recent host wasn’t even home when we arrived – “just let yourself in” – and took off on a backpacking trip early the next morning while we stayed another day. For those of you we’ve stayed with during this trip, THANK YOU for being so awesome! We hope you can come stay with us someday.

Dakota getting comfy on the floor in a host's basement in Canada.

Dakota getting comfy on the floor in a host’s basement in Canada. Thanks Sharon!

How Do You Ride with All that WEIGHT? UGH.

We do not (absolutely not!) ride with a heavy backpack, as a few have asked. Panniers are the way to roll! Also, numerous people have asked what it feels like riding with loaded rear and front panniers and a handlebar bag. “Dude, doesn’t that feel like a bloated hippopotamus squatting on your bike?!” Honestly, I initially had my misgivings, punctuated by whining and bellyaching. However, I’ve grown to dig my setup and my bike feels great while handling totally fine even at 35 mph downhill.

Was this really only a week ago? The Rockies quickly turned into the plains, that's for sure.

Was this really only a week ago? The Rockies quickly turned into the plains, that’s for sure.

When we’re fully loaded and rolling, each of my front panniers has about six pounds in it. Left is my wardrobe in all its glory, right is the kitchen plus two packets of emergency backpacking food. Rear panniers are about 12 pounds each when they’re loaded down with tons of grub. Right rear is rain gear and sleeping kit, left is food, laptop and things we access a lot. The tent is strapped to my rear rack and we also both carry three water bottles plus a 3 liter water reservoir for long days, kept empty when we have access to towns.

Did You Bring Jeans and a Dress Shirt?

Washing laundry in the Sea to Summit expandable sink.

Washing laundry in the Sea to Summit expandable sink.

Negative, Ghost Rider. Clothing is fairly minimal. For riding, I have a few pairs of light socks, cycling shoes, two jerseys, two pairs of riding shorts, and sun sleeves/arm/leg warmers. For non-bike time, I’m carrying flip flops, two pairs of quick-dry underwear, three shirts, lightweight pants and shorts, and a down jacket for cold nights, which also doubles as Chelsea’s pillow. We certainly won’t be attending any white tie events along the way. Oh, and rain gear (jacket, pants, gloves and shoe covers), which we hadn’t used until a solid day riding in the rain and wind yesterday in Central Montana. Everything worked great!

To keep it all clean, every night we wash out that day’s riding gear in our Sea to Summit lightweight folding sink, which we then dry the next day under a cargo bungee net on our racks the next day. The Yard Sale, as we call it, though so far we haven’t sold anything. I can’t BELIEVE nobody wants my worn riding shorts.

Key components of my riding kit - sun sleeves, knee warmers, and bright jersey. Shot from the east side of Glacier inconveniently featured nine miles of road construction on gnarly roads. This was the view at break from dust and traffic cops.

Key components of my riding kit – sun sleeves, knee warmers, and bright jersey. Shot from the east side of Glacier inconveniently featured nine miles of road construction on gnarly roads. This was the view at least…rest break from dust and traffic cops.

What Are You Eating?

Food of the plant-power variety! A surprise to us, some organic produce and food is usually available in towns of 3,000+ people, which we encounter every few days. Otherwise, we’re in the “unincorporated township” realm a lot or 50-500 person towns with a bar that doubles as the post office…you can see how pickings might be slim. It’s a bit of a struggle sometimes,  yet part of the experience and one we’re handling in stride.

Plant-powered snacking. Wishing we didn't have to buy packaged stuff, but what can you do.

Plant-powered snacking. Wishing we didn’t have to buy packaged stuff, though we avoid it whenever possible.

Simple breakfasts of oatmeal or granola and then a mix of nuts and fruit (dried and fresh) for snacks throughout the day. I often have an entire bag of cherries or grapes in my handlebar bag to munch on during the day. Lunch is usually a rice, bean or lentil dish prepared the night before, leftovers from a previous meal stored in Tupperware or else we’ll stop to eat out. (Go-to vegan greasy spoon fare: home fries with “all the vegetables you’ve got!”) Same theme for dinner. Even burning 3,000 calories extra per day, I don’t wake up with my stomach trying to crawl out of my body in search of food, which goes in the “Wins” column! Some cycle tourists don’t carry a stove, or end up shipping their stove home for lack of use, but we use ours all the time and feel the extra weight is well worth it. I will say we occasionally miss the luxury of a refrigerator.

A great second breakfast in a tiny hamlet of a town near the Canadian border. The chef had lived in San Fran for 13 years and made us an awesome meal!

A great second breakfast in a tiny hamlet of a town near the Canadian border. The chef had lived in San Fran for 13 years and made us an awesome meal!

We load up on quality food when the getting is good, erring toward carrying extra weight versus eating convenience store food for a few days. It doesn’t always work out though: the night before our biggest ride yet, the grocery store was closed in a one-horse, seven-church town on a Sunday. We were forced to fuel 75 miles and eight hours pedaling with junk food (mmm, Skittles) and whatever we could forage. Can’t say I’ve ever spent $50 on food at a gas station before.

Shot of our shopping basket for a couple of days. Albertsons has some great selection, far better than what we expected!

Shot of our shopping basket yesterday for a couple of days. Albertsons has some great selection, far better than what we expected! Lots of plastic packaging, which bums us out, but what can ya do sometimes?

As for electrolytes, we carry powdered magnesium citrate plus salt and mix that with water or juice. Coconut water is great too. No bonking or cramping yet, so it’s working great, even on long, hot days. Chelsea has a timer on her GPS that beeps every 10 minutes to remind her to hydrate, which is a fantastic way to stay on top of it. I’m a noise-hating grumpy old man and so I don’t use a timer, but admit to swigging some water occasionally when I hear her beeper go off.

The lovely Waterton Lake and the Prince of Wales Hotel on its shore. We opted for a free basement at a host's instead!

The lovely Waterton Lake and the Prince of Wales Hotel on its shore. We opted for a free basement at a host’s instead!

What’s the Hardest Thing About Bike Touring?

For me, it’s taking things one day at a time and not getting wrapped up in distance-mongering or my ego when I talk to some crusher 20 year old riding solo and doing 100 miles per day. Luckily, all I do is remind myself that they are rushing to get back before school starts and that riding 10+ hours a day for months is a grind.

Physically, the pedaling has gone better than expected! Our legs are steely strong and it is amazing that our bodies heal overnight and are ready to take the punishment anew every day, even as our minds say “stay in bed, you crazy cycling monkeys!” The toughest thing and most common reason for calling it a day is, as expected, sore butts, as there has been some chafing of late. ‘Nuf said about that – nothing petroleum jelly and a new saddle (mailed ahead and installed at a host’s house) for Chelsea can’t fix. We expected to deal with hurting derrieres, so this is just part of the journey. We shall persevere!

Down in the earth with the wheat, dirt and Chelsea cruising a back highway near the headwaters of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark passed right by this area by Ft. Benton.

Down in the earth with the wheat, dirt and Chelsea cruising a back highway near the headwaters of the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark passed right by this area by Ft. Benton.

All in all, each day is a different logistical challenge. What to eat, where to stay, where to go, which Hells Angel to talk to in Glacier. We’re having an awesome time and the fresh daily terrain keeps it interesting, but I admit it feels like we have no free time and energy levels are just high enough at the end of a day to handle the daily basics that keep us from turning into wild-eyed savages attacking hikers for granola bars and washing our faces in oily puddles. That said, finding time (and power/wifi) to write or engage in other projects is proving tough. Which is fine, even if it annoys me. Life ain’t too bad, and we are doing exactly what we set out to do, which is ride to the east coast. I didn’t except hours of down time.

And so, with a slight reroute to our plans, onward toward the Badlands of South Dakota we roam!


Wheat frames a hazy, fiery sunset in central Montana. Smoke from the fires in Washington made air quality bad for a couple days.

Wheat frames a hazy, fiery sunset in central Montana. Smoke from the fires in Washington made air quality bad for a couple days.

Away We Spin Into the Unknown

A sunset ride in Capital Reef National Park.

A sunset ride in Capital Reef National Park.

It’s easy to do something that turns you into the Cheshire Cat of Glee. Everyone has that activity that lights up their soul and makes them smile ear-to-ear. Recently, mountain biking the best trails in the west does that for me, rolling up to a trailhead in the van and careening off into the distance eyes aglow. During the last eight months, I’ve had some of the most content moments of my life ripping along twisty trails or halfway through a ride eating lunch with a splendid vista.

And now, gears are shifting. We are parking the van at Chelsea’s parents’ near Moscow, Idaho and depart in two days on the next phase of our adventure: biking 4,500 miles cross-country to Maine! We’re embarking with just our touring bikes, a tent and other camping gear for an unsupported trek that will take us along the Canadian border. We’ll pedal north through eastern Washington, then turn east to cross Idaho, Montana, the Great Plains and Great Lakes, then meander all the way to Bar Harbor, Maine (Acadia National Park).

Waiiiit a second Dakota, you’re thinking. Why the HECK are you trading the fun of mountain biking for cruising slowly along on a loaded touring bike all the way across the country this summer? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! You’re the guy in a van, don’t change things up on us. Not fair!

Pretending I know how to ride in Fruita, Colorado. GO here.

Pretending I know how to ride in Fruita, Colorado. GO here.

Frankly, life being so good is exactly why I’m down for a new course. As I’ve alluded to in past writing, anything great will eventually grow stale without introducing new challenge to the mix. Whether that’s a shift in careers, a fresh hobby or a challenge like this one (totally Chelsea’s idea, by the way), leaning into the unknown creates that adrenaline-fueled excitement. Everything and everyone has New Relationship Energy when you’re just getting started.

What to expect of the ride? Neither of us has toured longer than five days straight! Thousands of miles is a LONG way to ride a bicycle, and my mind, body, soul and relationship will be tested along the way. Even at 50 miles a day, 4,500 miles is three months straight pedaling up mountains, across plains and through forests hauling all our gear. And the bad stuff! What if we get hit by a drunk oil truck driver in North Dakota? What if bears eat our food, then our bikes and tents with us inside? What if this is the hottest, craziest tornado summer of the last 100 years?! A bike helmet doesn’t save you when a giant Walmart truck drops from the sky.

Cruising the bike-only path (20 miles!) in Grand Teton National Park. Best backdrop for a ride I've seen on this trip.

Cruising the bike-only path (20 miles!) in Grand Teton National Park. Best backdrop for a ride I’ve seen on this trip.

Ohhhh, the bad stuff, that indistinct terror of the unknown. Often, we fear anything new, jumping to the worst case in our mind first instead of the best case. Think of anytime you’ve told family and friends about a big undertaking. A few will celebrate the new journey – “wow, that’s amazing!” And the majority will dig through every anecdote and news story that they’ve ever encountered to offer words of warning. “My cousin Rick tried that and barely survived,” or “My buddy’s uncle’s co-worker just sits in a corner staring blankly after a trip like yours.”

I can’t imagine what early settler’s heard from their safety-minded friends. I’m exaggerating…but you know what I’m saying. Everyone in your life cares about keeping you safe and away from harm and often the first response is one of concern and cautionary tales, however far-fetched. Rather than “have fun!” it’s “be safe.” Perhaps it stems from bygone days when our ancestors could only pass down wisdom via stories, and so warnings like that literally could save lives. “Thag, you steer clear of those TrampleYourAssasauruses in the summer, your uncle SlagHeap was mashed by one.”

Well, I have news. These days, life is safe! We in developed countries live in a world so ridiculously luxurious that people run 100 miles for fun and can fly (safely) around the planet on a whim for an insanely low price relative to bygone days. A hailstorm or flat tire in the middle of nowhere is a test, yet certainly not the end of our existence.

Cruising the most-excellent trail in Dixie Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Cruising the excellent car-free trail in Dixie Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park.

None of this is to say that I’m tough. I’m totally leery of the negative things that could happen; they crop up in my mind on an hourly basis. Testing our new tent on the back deck at C’s parent’s house in the country, the sound of a bear roaring nearby at midnight transfixed us in our sleeping bags for a couple minutes as we pictured the headline: “Dumb city slicker couple mauled in tent ten feet from house.” Mild terror until C’s dad starting laughing and turned off the iPad nature app featuring grizzly growls. Ohhh he’s quite the joker, her dad. Now I have to wash my sleeping bag!

Really though, we shall see how this goes. Dude, I’ve been driving around the country in my luxury German vehicle with a fridge and hot water boiler. I have wireless internet everywhere I go, and my favorite Synergy kombucha is almost always available. Our biggest roadblock, finding healthy plant-based food, is entirely a personal choice. Hmmm, can I actually do this?! Trading my comfy Sprinter van and mattress for a tent and sleeping pad? My stereo system for headphones? Accelerator for a pair of pedals and a bike seat? This sounds like a serious pain in the butt (literally, I’m sure).

And that’s why I’m game. I can always return to the van, or our house, to be coddled by the comforts of modern society. I can hop on a plane to Hawaii for a week in the sun, or drive to the beach for a weekend out of the city. But first, I’m spinning off into the Rocky Mountains to find some tent-eating bears. There will be trials of logistics and weather, plus the hangry (hungry+angry) moments when I don’t eat enough and Chelsea has to fend me off with a bike pump. (She calls that alter-ego NARG. Picture an ugly, surly monster with no logic or empathy.) Headwinds will batter the core of my convictions in the Great Plains and afternoon rain will perhaps dampen my spirits. It’s going to be hard…and so bodaciously rad! (The 80s live on.)

Totally unrelated to bike touring... Just a pretty shot from Grand Teton!

Totally unrelated to bike touring… Just a pretty shot from Grand Teton!

I know this: I’m going to emerge a stronger person with a new sense of what our bodies and minds can accomplish when we say “DO THIS” and set off on a big adventure. The best case is more confidence in the reality that testing our limits results in growth in directions we never expect. (Certainly in my quads.) And I suspect seeing new territory at bike-touring speed, and meeting kind, amazing people along the way, will light me up and crack my face into a big grin just like when I’m mountain biking.

Right now, it feels riskier to not keep mixing fresh horizons and new adventures into our lives, and this is simply the newest escapade. Living a life of no regrets is my guiding star, and so I grab my bike and point the front tire east. To Maine, I say! As a wise world traveler we met in Yellowstone told us, ““Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful, and if you can’t do that, be really good!”

Getting our respective skips on outside the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula (they have maps and bike touring gear and hey, we were in the area). Yes, Chelsea will always be more graceful and less nerdy than I could ever hope to be. And she has cool colored cycling socks.

Getting our respective skips on outside the Adventure Cycling Association in Missoula (they have maps and bike touring gear and hey, we were in the area). Yes, Chelsea will always be more graceful and less nerdy than I could ever hope to be. And she has cool colored cycling socks.

Friends and blog readers (one and the same): Drop us a line with your favorite places across the northern U.S.! If you have family or buddies anywhere along our route, please put us in touch. Meeting people during our travels is absolutely our favorite part of being vagabonds. I’ll be updating the trip map along the way, so follow along to see if we accidentally wander into the Arctic Circle (not part of the plan).

Pedal on,

Dakota & Chelsea

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We'll see lots of wheat waving under sunsets on our trip!

We’ll see lots of wheat waving under sunsets on our trip!